A recently announced privacy tool was due to be unveiled at the DefCon gadget conference has now been effectively canceled. ProxyHam caught the attention of many news outlets, from Motherboard to Wired, and with it came some controversy about the legality of it all.
The team behind the project, RhinoSecurity, announced their shutdown and immediately ceasing any further development on it, but that they could not comment whatsoever on the reasons why.
Follow-ups left reporters with the feeling that ProxyHam innovator Ben Caudill has signed some kind of nondisclosure agreement or been forced to keep quiet about the project. It seems obvious that some official legal enforcement play may be at hand.
What is ProxyHam?
Essentially, ProxyHam was a technology designed to divert and shield wireless signals, to help Web users stay anonymous. Using a 900 MHz radio connected to an antenna, ProxyHam had a range of about 2.5 miles according to its makers.
The idea behind ProxyHam was that users would be able to set it up somewhere, maybe in a public space, and then broadcast under its aegis. So, if snoopers tried to trace a signal back, they would go to, say, a public library, instead of someone’s home.
The real proof of ProxyHam was going to be at DefCon, where attendants were supposed to be able to buy this technology at cost and experiment with it at will.
Instead, the project is basically dead in the water, and fans shouldn’t expect any significant developments anytime soon, and those attending DefCon are certainly less than content to see it off the lineup.
ProxyHam, Proxies and VPNs
In past years, the use of things like VPNs and Web proxies has been relatively common. There wasn’t a lot of controversy around this type of thing until the recent sophistication of the Internet and an interplay of laws and regulations aimed at foiling terrorism and preventing public threats.
Now, some experts are saying that even innocuous projects like ProxyHam could be perceived as in violation of some of those safety and security oriented legislation. One law that’s being cited is the broad Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, with quite a wide-ranging applications to individual activity.
Compliant with Trade Regulations
There was some speculation that perhaps the ProxyHam project had gone on the radar of American commerce regulators. However, information from founders shows that there was no communication with the Federal Communications Commission, and that radio output below 1 watt put ProxyHam squarely in the realm of legal spectrum use.
In fact, it’s not the commerce regulators that some of these startup founders need to be worried about. Again, there is a targeting under the broader blanket of security enforcement that is starting to crack down on web anonymity methods in general. Government groups are wanting more consistent access to information about individuals, and the kinds of simple tools that protected Internet activities from prying eyes are now seen as evasive, getting knocked in security reports and even in the media. People are used to seeing these kinds of crackdowns in Third World countries, but now even in the first world, as evidenced by new British laws and other developments, it’s becoming the fashion of the day to disallow citizens certain privacy rights that had formerly been pretty much taken for granted.
With ProxyHam down for the count, it remains important to focus on new developments in Web anonymity and new grassroots efforts to look out for the consumer. There’s an extent to which public opinion supports privacy as a kind of basic freedom. You can even see this at work in the legislature with the efforts of individuals like Sen. Rand Paul. However, a lot of it happens at the grassroots level, and it’s up to individuals to get together and figure out how to advocate for individual rights and how to promote privacy for all.